A client with an Illinois workers’ compensation case was upset with me recently. They felt that the lawyer I had suggested to them to work on their case wasn’t doing what they said they’d do. After we talked, and I broke down how the Illinois work comp settlement process works, he felt better. He told me that nobody explained things the way I did so I thought it would be helpful to break down what has been happening on his case for my readers.
A little background. He had been hurt two years earlier and was fortunate that all of his medical treatment was approved, all of his bills were paid, and he got everything he was owed for his time off work. Basically, there were no disputes in his case. He got discharged from medical care about eight months ago, and a few months after that, he and his lawyer discussed pursuing a settlement offer.
What happened next was totally normal, but not explained well to the client. First, the attorney wrote to the other lawyer with a settlement demand. He got no response so he motioned the case for trial and let the client know about it. The attorney responded that she had just gotten the file and needed more time. So the case got continued until the next status call.
Couple of things to explain here:
- Every case is on a status call every three months and there are status calls pretty much every day Monday to Friday.
- Each status call typically has hundreds of cases. That means that nothing happens on most of them other than getting continued for another three months.
- Even when you ask for a hearing, you are competing with every other case that wants a hearing. The older cases get priority as do cases that involve unpaid time off work or denied medical care. In other words, just because you ask for a hearing doesn’t mean you will get one.
- Because getting a hearing is hard and nothing in this case was in dispute other than what it’s worth, agreeing to continue the case to the next status call made sense. If the lawyer didn’t the Arbitrator would have.
Fast forward three more months and no offer has been made. So the lawyer again motioned the case for trial. It was set for a pre-trial. A pre-trial is an informal hearing with the two lawyers and the Arbitrator. It has to happen before a trial. It’s a way to encourage a settlement. Your lawyer says what the facts are and what they think the case is worth. Then the insurance company does the same. After some discussion, the Arbitrator makes a non-binding recommendation.
What happened here is the lawyer for the worker didn’t explain the pre-trial process. What he did say was that he spoke with the defense attorney and they advised that they will have a settlement offer soon. The lawyer told this to the worker because he had no reason to doubt the defense attorney.
An offer never came. It doesn’t mean the defense lawyer is a liar. It likely means that their insurance company client hasn’t responded. That could be for a lot of reasons including the insurance adjuster being bad at their job, a new one taking over the file and not getting around to it, they need to get approval to offer a certain dollar amount, etc.
Since no offer has come, the attorney told the client that they are again filing a request for a hearing. The client is frustrated because they’ve seen this before and nothing has happened. But as explained, that’s how it goes at the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission. Most requests to go to trial are just ways to pressure a defense lawyer or insurance company to make an offer.
In this case, the assigned Arbitrator was on maternity leave, so a different Arbitrator will temporarily take over. I can tell you from experience that when this happens, getting an actual trial date is even more difficult. But the lawyer will try and advise that no offer was made despite a pre-trial. If the case doesn’t go to trial this spring, there’s a good chance it could this summer. But more realistically is that the threat of a trial will cause a settlement offer to come.
In some ways, this is all a defense strategy. If they know you want to be done with the case, you are more likely to take a lowball offer. So the more they delay, the more frustrated you get and the more likely you are to leave money on the table. If your case is worth between $50,000-$70,000, if they can get you to settle for 50k, it’s a win. They save $20,000.00.
So as I explained to this client, it’s a frustrating, but very normal process so far. We can’t make an insurance company give a settlement offer, we can only pressure them with the threat of trial. Usually, that does the trick, but there are no guarantees.
He thankfully felt better after the call as he understood the process. His lawyer is doing a great job but didn’t do a good job explaining the process here. That’s OK. Some people don’t get me when I try to explain things. The caller was smart to seek out an explanation.
If you want to discuss a settlement or anything else about the Illinois work comp process, please call us any time at 312-346-5578. It’s always free and confidential.